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Marillion - This Strange Engine CD (album) cover

THIS STRANGE ENGINE

Marillion

 

Neo-Prog

3.42 | 561 ratings

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Tristan Mulders
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Marillion - This strange Engine

While the preceding studio albums "Brave" and "Afraid of Sunlight" were relatively dark and moody album, "This strange Engine" saw Marillion heading of into other musical territories.

Instead of overwhelming full-band performances, such as on the song "Mad" on the "Brave" album, most of the songs presented here are relatively simple songs, with only Hogarth on the front and the other band members as a background band to accompany his singing. That's exactly what I dislike about this album: the lack of great instrumentation. If you were to look for some virtuous soloing, you are definitely in the wrong place here. Instead, you get several acoustic songs (Man of a thousand Faces, 80 Days, Memory of Water), a rock ballad (One fine Day), one failed experiment with Caribbean music (!)(Hope for the Future), a good rock song (An accidental Man) and two attempts at great prog rock (Estonia and This strange Engine).

I never ranked this album high among other Marillion studio albums. To be quite honest, I actually prefer its ambient electronic counter part "Tales from the Engine Room," which is a total reconstruction by a dance group called "The Positive Light". Although both are very different, I still prefer the more coherent and atmospheric remix album.

Of course I didn't write this review with the perspective of bashing the album. There are some good points. I was (still am actually) always very fond of the opening track Man of a thousand Faces, only in the full-length album version though, with its acoustic madness. This is acoustic at its most progressive. Complete with a built-up part with a choir included to accompany Hogarth's great vocal performance.

Even the simple rock song One fine Day is actually pretty good. but judging it's 'progness' I can say it's nihil.

There are also various songs that I tend to skip while listening to the album. 80 Days, albeit a song about Marillion's fanbase and thus a sort of 'thank you' towards the fans, never really worked for me. I have heard its ambient reconstruction before I even heard anything on this album and still prefer that reconstruction. This songs is a bit like "Made again" is on the "Brave" album. a bit of a filler on the album but great live tracks to warm-up the crowd.

There's also the horrible Memory of Water, which is a vocal only song with some cello accompanying Hogarth's singing. Although Steve's vocals sound good and the cellos is also played very well, this song simply is too quiet after the song Estonia. That song already is relaxed and atmospheric and Memory of Water simply lacks energy to be interesting. I guess the band themselves noticed this too, because they never performed the song live in this version. Instead they perform the so-called "Big Beat Mix," which was a b-side to 1998's "These Chains" single. This rendition is filled with up-tempo drumming, guitar solo's at their best, good synths and bass playing and again Hogarth's beautiful voice.

Whereas Memory of Water still has some good qualities, Hope for the Future definitely showed that Marillion should hope their fans would stick with them in the future after hearing this specific song. The basics for the song are actually quite good, if I read the lyrics without listening to the music, I have to say they are good and when the intro sequence of the song starts one might think the song is also equally good. how wrong you were. All of a sudden the tune changes into a Caribbean setting, which, although very funny, is not what I'm looking for in a Marillion record.

So now, the highlights of the album: Estonia is a tribute to the casualties of an accident with a ferry that happened in Estonia in 1994. During a sea voyage from Tallinn to Stockholm, a ferry got caught in stormy weather and the boat sank to the bottom of the ocean taking most of the passengers with him. Rescue vessels managed to save 138 people from the sinking boat, of whom one still passed away. During the following day another 92 bodies were recovered.

The song is a very mellow and atmospheric piece of music, which moods change from semi-depressing (most of the verses) to uplifting and 'happy' in the chorus. I really like this song in its studio version, but I've seen it performed live once on Marillion's 2004 "Marbles" promotion tour, where it was a total mood breaker then, but that of course could also be because the band played it directly after a few uptempo rock songs. It certainly wasn't Steve Hogarth's vocal performance, because that one is very emotional and simply stunning during all the segments of the song.

Of course the best is left for the end, isn't it? This strange engine is the last song on the album. The song basically is Steve (Hogarth)'s life story and especially about his father's role in his life. This song was a tribute to Steve's father by a son who admired him. This story is told within 8 sections, in total comprising 15:30 minutes (it says 30 minutes when you play the song, but that's because there's a hidden track at the end after approximately 14 minutes of silence).

You cannot escape the emotions in this song. The various different sections have their own emotional sidekicks. From admiration and pure love to rage and anger. This is all expressed via the incredible instrumentation, which happens to include several brilliant guitar and keyboard solo's and even a long saxophone solo, but most noticeably through Steve Hogarth's vocal performance.

Although "This strange Engine" isn't Marillion's most progressive, or best, album, it still features a few things that might be of interest to the average prog rock fan.

Tristan Mulders | 3/5 |

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